Season preview: Bullpen

Jesses Crain is in the running to start the season as the White Sox's closer. Jennifer Hilderbrand/US Presswire

The question most baseball people have about the 2012 White Sox is what to really expect from a bullpen that for all intents and purposes has four rookie pitchers as part of a seven-man group.

Manager Robin Ventura has taken his time as far as handing roles out due to the great unknown of this season’s pen. Three main holdovers from last season will be counted on to lead the rookies through the daily battle of preparation along with pitching coach and bullpen coach Juan Nieves.

The team’s closer may be a revolving door. Matt Thornton, Addison Reed and Jesse Crain are the candidates for the coveted position. Thornton has the most experience; he won the job last season only to lose it after four early blown saves. The 35-year-old veteran has thrived in a setup role, however. He’s the only pitcher in baseball to post 20-plus holds in each of the past four seasons. With that, it’s worth questioning the logic of taking him out of that role.

Reed is without question the closer of the future, but putting his feet to the fire without any big-league pitching time could be a mistake. Reed’s biggest asset, a 98 mph fastball, certainly could make him an effective end-game solution.

Crain -- along with Thornton -- is the most versatile pitcher in the pen. Crain has never closed but his toughness indicates he could handle the stress of the role. Regardless of whom Ventura uses to close, this trio will be pitching in the final innings early on in the season.

With a bullpen short on experience, middle-inning veteran Will Ohman will be expected to do a little more than in the past. Newcomers Hector Santiago and Nate Jones will be joined by long man Zach Stewart to round out the bullpen mix. Santiago is a lefty screwball specialist who showed the ability to get hitters out on both sides of the plate. The Sox hope Jones will move toward a set-up role in the future. Like the starting rotation, the Sox’s lack depth in the minors if anyone is injured or in effective.

Three keys for the bullpen

• Thornton steps up to handle the closer role that was taken away from him in 2011.

• Crain and Reed are consistent in the set-up role behind Thornton. Reed must settle in while learning how to approach making 75 appearances (Reed appeared in 45 games in 2011.)

• GM Kenny Williams continues to trade for more young pitching to fortify the bullpen and rotation.